Thirty-three years ago, the Lord privileged me to become the pastor of Wheelersburg Baptist Church, in Appalachian southern Ohio, where I presently serve. At the time, the church was 109 years old. I was 26 and had just finished four years of Bible college and another four years of seminary. I believed the Bible was the inerrant, infallible, trustworthy Word of God. I was committed to preaching it, making disciples by it, and equipping this precious congregation to live by it.
Then it started. People began opening up to me, saying things like, “Pastor, we’re having marriage problems.” And “Pastor, I’ve been told I’m bipolar.” And “Pastor, they say our child has ADHD, and we’re overwhelmed.” Then came the question, “Pastor, can you help us?”
I responded by listening, praying with them, expressing my concern and support, reading a Scripture or two, but that was about it. I sensed they needed more, but I didn’t know how to provide it.
Consequently, I saw a couple of things happen. First, some of the strugglers went outside the church for help. Unfortunately, though well-meaning I’m sure, this “professional” help typically didn’t increase the hurting person’s confidence in Christ, His Word, and His church. In fact, at times it undermined this confidence. A second outcome I observed was that some hurting people continued to limp along in isolation, receiving little or no help, convinced that no help was available.
Recognizing the Need
After seven years of pastoring this way, I knew something needed to change. I needed to change. The Lord had called me to shepherd His flock, and I wasn’t doing it. Frankly, I didn’t know how to do it.
But it was more personal than that. I didn’t know how to deal with problems in my own life. I would walk through the door into my home in the evening, and my wife would ask, “How was your day?” My standard answer was, “Fine, dear. It was fine.” It didn’t matter if I’d been putting out church fires all day. Everything was always fine. I thought that’s what the good Christian response was. Just be positive. Don’t get angry. Things will work out. But they didn’t.
Please don’t misunderstand. New people were coming. The giving was good. The church was growing. We had programs and activities for all ages, with lots of people serving. But something seemed amiss. In reality, a storm was brewing.
Twelve Long, Valuable Mondays
About 26 years ago, in God’s incredible kindness, I heard about and signed up for a 12-week course in biblical counseling hosted by Clearcreek Chapel near Dayton, Ohio. It was there I learned from three pastors what the Bible says about the real problems my people were experiencing, that I was experiencing. That was a tough stretch, leaving the house at 6 a.m., listening to lectures in the morning, doing case studies in the afternoon, observing biblical counselors in action in the evening, and then driving home, pulling in the driveway somewhere between 9 and 11 p.m. It was tough . . . and life-changing.I wouldn’t be in the ministry today if it hadn’t been for biblical counseling training. Click To Tweet
A pastor friend of mine recently said, “I wouldn’t be in the ministry today if it hadn’t been for biblical counseling training.” I agree. That practical course opened my eyes to the reality that God’s Word is not only inerrant and authoritative, it is sufficient to deal with the complex challenges hurting people are facing.
The training produced a series of changes, starting with me and my family. I learned from God’s Word how I could, instead of clamming up, deal with problems God’s way. I learned there is no such thing as a problem-free life or family or church and that God’s kind of life, family, and church is one that deals with its problems His way. He shows us what His way is in the Book.
Next it began to change the church. I began a Sunday evening series, “Biblical Answers for the Problems of Life.” We learned together what the Bible says about marriage, parenting, fear, worry, depression, and much more. I also began to do biblical counseling with people in the church and community, and I went through the rigorous yet valuable process of becoming certified with what is now the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.
Good things were happening, but not everyone was pleased. In 1998 our church went through a firestorm; by the time the flames subsided, we had lost one-third of our members. There were many contributing factors (differences over doctrine, music, methodology, etc.), but at the root it had to do with a vital clarifying question.
The Clarifying Question
We had to ask ourselves, “Are we going to be a truly biblical church?” Specifically, “Do we believe that the Bible is sufficient? Will we deal with our problems by heeding this Book God has given us? When we have conflict, will we lay aside our Baptist-subculture expectations and affirm that this Book is the key to life and godliness?”
It was so painful; and, frankly, in a very real sense it still is. We looked like a severely pruned tree after the departures finally stopped. But as is the case with a pruned tree, we were now ready for a remarkable season of fruit-bearing that not one of us could have anticipated.
Twenty years ago, as a church we realized that God had given us something we could not keep to ourselves. So we began our first year of training in biblical counseling. About 50 people from nine area churches were in that first class. The next year we offered a second track. The following year we began offering an advanced track, as well as continuing our fundamentals track. Eventually others in our church family began counseling and teaching. We started going on the road to do training in other places, even overseas.
I don’t even know the numbers for sure, for they don’t really matter—a lesson the Lord has been teaching me for three decades. Many hundreds of people from mostly small churches in the region of southern Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia have participated in our courses. Ministry is all about God’s glory, and His glory is manifest when He works through weak vessels like us to accomplish His eternally significant plan to transform hurting sinners into His Son’s likeness. Our counseling team has been offering free counseling to our Tri-State region for 20 years now. Dozens of people every year are finding hope from the Scriptures. Marriages are being restored. People struggling with depression, fears, and anxieties are learning to experience the joy of Christlikeness in their struggles. And for this we say, to God be the glory!
Acts 20:20 Ministry
In the twenty-first century, we need Acts 20:20 ministries. So, pastor friend, I commend to you the value of a 20:20 ministry, the kind of Word-centered ministry the apostle Paul described in Acts 20:20, “I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house” (NIV). There is a need, says Paul, for the ministry of the Word on two fronts. There’s the public ministry of the Word (preaching). But there’s also the private, house-to-house ministry of the Word, which is what biblical counseling is all about. When we preach, we take the Word to people. When we counsel, we take people to the Word.
Training in biblical counseling is worth the effort. If you have never received such training, I urge you to consider it. Find the ACBC training center closest to you. Take a course and pursue certification. Encourage others in the congregation to do the same. You won’t regret it.
This article first appeared in the Baptist Bulletin (July/August 2020), copyright © Regular Baptist Press. Used by permission. All rights reserved.